Fearsome politics

When I was a child, I used to be afraid of the dark because I thought demons might attack me. As I grew up, I started to realize how ridiculous our fears can sometimes be. As we get older, we make better sense of the context and the actual limits of this emotion known as ‘fear’. We also begin to appreciate the great impact it has on humanity.

Fear has been used since the dawn of history in many situations. Just now, as I was driving to the newspaper, I was listening to a radio program on the BBC World Service about the panic over swine flu, and how it was channeled to drive billions of dollars into pharmaceutical companies’ bank accounts. Fear is also deeply embedded in the daily operation of stock markets, therefore, it has a great impact on the functioning of economies all over the world. Fear is a
mighty instrument, and whoever learns to use it properly for his benefit, will have indisputable power over the world.

This article is about the utilization of fear in politics, and the relation between them. Two weeks ago, when Britain was still wondering who would be the next Prime Minister, I found myself having an incredibly ridiculous question in
mind: “Why doesn’t Gordon Brown just announce himself winner, and remain the ruler of the UK?” I know how absurd that sounds, but just think about it – what’s stopping him? I mean why can dictators all over the world, including in the Arab world, do that, and Gordon Brown can’t?!

If Brown had the courage to consider this possibility, having ensured that no microphones are still switched on, this time inside his scalp, then he would have immediately shaken the idea out of his head because it sounds impossible.
However, if he were to pronounce these thoughts to anyone, including his closest friends, they would think he is insane, and probably report him to MI5, 6 or even 7.

All of that is because the possible reaction to such a step would be gigantic. British people would never allow  something like that to happen, no matter how many government officials might love the fantasy. The power is in the hands of people and that is unquestionable.

Under dictatorships, the people fear the regime and comply with its rulings out of fear. In democracies leaders fear the public, and try to satisfy them in order to continue enjoying the power granted to them by the public. In both cases, the fear factor is a major player in the political relation between rulers and nations. Without fear, there won’t be stability, only conflict, until one party wins, and the other starts to fear questioning its authority.

Conflicts occur when a leader of a democratic country decides to go against the will of the nation, or when a nation decides to go against the will of a dictator. In some of these cases, fear works as the catalyst which starts the conflict.
In many cases fear is deployed as a tool in the conflict. This deployment can be direct, like the use of political assassinations and other measures used to gag voices of opposition, or indirect, like generating fear among the populace of an external threat in order to have more power over them. The brightest example of that is the adoption of the ‘Patriot Act’, a freedom-limiting legal statute passed in the US after the attacks of September 11th.

So, fear is always present in politics, and the answer to the question ‘Who fears who?’ can pretty much determine the status of a regime, whether it is a dictatorship, or a democracy.

Now there are cases where it’s not a clear-cut dictatorship, nor a clear cut democracy, and this is where fear game becomes really dangerous. Wherever there is a fragile balance of fear between the regime and the people, then whoever starts changing things loses the most. In these cases, trust is the major stabilizing force and if it is lost or compromised, the unleashed fear could have devastating effects on the life of any person or society.
© Kuwait Times 2010

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